Co-authored by Nicholas Ktenas of Elias Neocleous & Co. LLC
In 2017, the Protection of Paternity Law (No. 117(I)/2017) came into effect. The new law introduced—for the first time—the concept of paternity leave to Cyprus law to strengthen the existing social-legal framework for the protection of parents at work. This law entitles working fathers to paid leave from work to care for a newborn child. This right was previously only available to mothers under the Protection of Maternity Law.
Before the introduction of the Protection of Paternity Law, the only type of leave available by law to working fathers for parenthood was unpaid parental leave or leave for family emergencies under Law 69(I)/200. This law applies equally to both men and women, entitling each parent to a total of 18 weeks' unpaid leave for each child born or adopted.
The Protection of Paternity Law provides that a working husband, whose wife gave birth or had a child through a surrogate mother, or adopted a child under the age of 12, may apply for 2 consecutive weeks' paid paternity leave during the first 16 weeks from the week of the birth or adoption. Paternity benefits are paid in accordance with social insurance laws.
The applicant must inform his employer of his intention to exercise his right to paternity leave in writing with two weeks' advance notice. It is unlawful for an employer to dismiss an employee from the moment the employee gives such notice in writing and for the duration of the leave, unless the termination is justified by the employee's conduct, the closing down of the business, or the expiration of the employment term.
Paternity leave shall not adversely affect the employee's seniority or his right to promotion. The employee has the right to return to the same work he performed before the leave (or other similar work with the same level of remuneration).
The competent court for resolving any disputes under this law is the Cyprus Labor Disputes Court, and the competent authority responsible for its implementation is the Minister of Labor, Welfare and Social Insurance. Employers have an obligation to cooperate with the competent authority in the course of any investigation.
Failure by employers to comply with their legal obligations towards employees is also a criminal offense, punishable with a fine of up to 7,000 euros (USD 8,543: GBP 6,211) upon conviction.
With this reform, Cyprus joins the growing list of European countries that have introduced or extended the rights for fathers to take leave upon the birth of a child. Workers and their representatives perceived the introduction of the new paternity law as a welcome development that will ensure more gender equality, not just at work but also with regard to parental roles and responsibilities.
However, because, as it currently stands, the new law applies only to fathers who are legally married, it has faced criticism among those who argue that paternity rights should be unrelated to marital status. Thus, opponents argue that the law promotes inequality and unfair treatment of unmarried fathers and have urged the government to extend the law to both married and unmarried fathers. To date, the government has rejected this position, claiming that marriage provides evidence that the parents are cohabitating.